From "Broken Dishes and a Dog's Grave"
Semi-journos Brad and Andy work at a Tokyo newspaper. Tonight they're attending a party given by a US Embassy worker. It doesn't go well.
Andy pushed his typewriter away and lit a cigarette. “What are you doing tonight?”
“Nothing. The usual. I don’t know. Wanna go to the Airport Lounge?”
The Airport Lounge was a restaurant/bar, mostly bar, down the street. We didn’t know the name, we just called it the Airport Lounge because it looked like a 1960s airport departure lounge. This was not winking, ironic décor; it had been that way since the 60s.
“Fuck that, we went there for lunch. Anyway, there’s a party.”
“Who do we know with an apartment big enough for a party?”
“No one. But a guy I know at the Yomiuri sort of knows this girl who works at the US Embassy. It’s her party. She gets free housing, and it’s big.”
“Who else is going from here?”
“Should we bring something?.”
“I don’t think it’s that kind of party, but yeah, as strangers we can’t go in empty-handed. We’ll get a couple of bottles of wine or something.”
I got to Aoyama station at the appointed time, which was stupid. Andy was never on time, and he rarely apologized. I stood on the subway platform like a shmuck, waiting for his train. I bought some Japanese fake-Ricola cough drops from the kiosk and had a couple. I was coughing a lot, dust or something was bothering me.
Andy was standing at the door of the train when it pulled in. He saw me and made devil horns behind the head of a salaryman standing in front of him, which was stupid because the guy could see Andy's reflection in the door window. He didn’t turn around, but his face darkened as he stepped off.
“Someday you’re going to do that to the wrong person.”
“No one cares about that kind of thing here. They expect foreigners to be assholes. I’m just giving them what they want.”
“Where were you anyway?”
“What do you mean? I’m not late, am I?”
“Not for you, or any other douche.”
"Aw, I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you tonight, hmmm?”
“Somehow I doubt it. Do we even know this chick’s name?”
“I wrote it down with the address. Courtney or Madison or some other fake-rich steeplechase name. Here it is. Taylor. A girl with the first name Taylor.”
The building had no doorman so we took the elevator to the apartment. We made nice at the door with some clean-cut guy in a blue blazer. Our jeans and leather jackets were a little out of place, but only a little. I took our bottles into the kitchen, which was about two thirds the size of my apartment. I made Taylor by the way she was running the show. Brunette, cool glasses, blue eyes and dressed casually but not cheaply. Nice shape, and not too tall. I went over to introduce myself.
Hi, you’re Taylor, right? I’m Brad. Nice party.”
“Thanks, nice to meet you. Have I seen you at the embassy?”
“No, I’m a newspaper editor.”
“Oh, for the Japan Times?”
“No, the Evening News. Asahi Evening News.”
“Ha! Do you realize that translates to –“
“The, uh, Morning Evening News. Yeah, I think that has been mentioned.”
She clouded over. Why didn’t I let her have that joke? I blew it. So fucking stupid. She moved away, talking over her shoulder.
“Have something to drink if you want. The bar’s in there.”
“Thanks, nice to meet you.” And if you have a gun, I’d like to borrow it and blow my brains out. Jesus.
I moved across the living room toward the bar. Is that what I think it is? Yes, it certainly was. A brand new bottle of Wild Turkey, waiting to be plucked and defiled. I filled a glass with ice.
I had the first one with soda. God, the taste of Wild Turkey. It was incredibly expensive in Japan and I hadn’t had any even in the States for quite a while. I poured another on the rocks and lit a cigarette. Maybe this wasn’t going to be a disaster after all. Andy was across the room, chatting up a local.
The guy from the door spotted me standing alone. He made eye contact, gave a short nod and smiled, weaving around a couple of conversations toward me.
“We met at the door. I’m Todd.” Of course you are, I thought. Blue blazer, light blue oxford cloth button down, khakis and loafers. The uniform of the Drone Army.
We shook. “Hi Todd, I’m Brad. Are you a friend of Taylor?”
“Not that close, we just work together. Been in Tokyo long?”
“No, just around four months. How about you?”
He reached for a bottle and poured himself half a glass of wine.
“I’ve been here for just over a year.”
“That’s cool. Where were you before that?”
“I spent some time in Africa, working for the Peace Corps.”
“Wow, this must be quite a change.”
Todd laughed like I had told a joke. “Yes, definitely. What do you do around here?”
“I work for the Asahi Evening News. I’m an editor”
“Ah. Good paper. Good paper. What did you do before that?”
“I did some freelancing in Dallas.”
“Oh, is that where you’re from?”
“Well, that’s where my family lives now, but I’m not from there.”
“Where were you born?”
Over Todd’s shoulder I saw Andy across the room, making the Japanese “stop” gesture at me, clenched fists crossed in front of his chest.
I decided to lie. “Uh, Arkansas, actually. Fort Smith. How about you?” I filled my glass with ice and Turkey again. I looked at the bottle. Either someone else was drinking Turkey, or there was a shitload of booze in my gut. I was buzzed but coherent.
“I’m from New York.”
“Todd, I’ll be back, right now I have to go to the bathroom.”
“No prob, Brad, nice to meet you.”
I really did need to piss. I waved Andy off and hit the head. I set my drink down on the bathroom sink, unzipped and let go. Washed my hands and checked the medicine cabinet for painkillers, tranquilizers, whatever. Nothing.
I had just refilled my drink when Andy appeared at my elbow. “Come over here, I’d like you to meet my pal from the Yomiuri.”
“What was the deal? Why were you telling me not to talk with that guy?”
He gave me a look and pushed annoyingly on my arm, away from other people.
“You're being loud. Are you out of it already?” He smelled my drink. “How many have you had?”
“Mm, four maybe?”
“Four like that? Jesus. Come meet Mikey.” Then, in a whisper: “He’s got some hash.”
“Hash? We can’t smoke hash here.”
Again I got the look. Mikey waved to us from the hall, pointing at a door. I got a quick intro as we hustled through the door and into a rather spacious walk-in closet. We sat down on the floor. Mikey had a wispy beard and longish black hair that looked unwashed in the way that doesn’t repel women. He pulled out a bag of Drum, some papers and a wad of tinfoil. He quickly assembled a hash-tobacco joint, rolled it with three smooth motions, took a drag and handed it to me.
I love Drum, and I love hash. I took two hits, which annoyed Andy, but fuck him. I drained my drink and leaned back on some clothes that had fallen off their hangers. The joint came around again. This was good hash. Better than I needed on top of all that Turkey. Then I remembered Andy waving me off the conversation with Todd.
“So why did you tell me not to talk to that guy?”
Andy blew smoke out his nose. “Because he’s a spook. He’s CIA.”
“Bullshit. How do you know?”
“I know because I know, all right? Doesn’t he work for the Embassy?”
“I bet he was hitting you with a lot of personal questions right off the bat.”
“Actually he was. It felt like a fucking job interview.”
“Ah! You see? He did the same thing to me. Do you really think he gives a shit? He’s not at a party, he’s working!”
“Shit. Fuck. Whatever. What would he want with me?”
“They gather information compulsively. Like you drink.”
My seat needed more padding. I pulled a dress down and stuffed it behind my back.
Then the door opened.
It was Taylor. She looked pissed.
“What are you guys doing? This is a closet!”
Mikey had lit a regular cigarette to kill the hash perfume, but it hadn’t helped. He held it up and smiled. “Sorry, just having a smoke and talking. We didn’t want to bother anyone.” Nice Irish accent, I thought. American girls fall for that. Maybe we're OK.
A male face appeared next to Taylor’s. Probably a boyfriend, and he didn’t look happy. “I think you guys need to leave.”
I handed him my empty glass as I came out. I looked at Taylor. “Sorry. It was a great party, thanks for –“
“Your jackets are over there.” She wasn’t having it. We were done.
The first jacket I put on was way too big. Finally I found mine and threw it on but I couldn’t get the zipper to go. I became hyperfocused on the task. I started again. Put the thingy in the zipper part, pull it up and then the wall hit my shoulder. Huh? Did I fall? The boyfriend looked disgusted. Screw it. I walked out and into the elevator with Mikey and Andy.
The street was quiet, except for our footsteps and laughter. Andy stopped to piss between two cars. I lit a cig. Mikey leaned back against a car and looked up at the sky.
“There goes that connection." said Mikey. I was hoping to use her as a source in the Embassy.”
Andy zipped up, laughing. “You’re jerking it. The Yomiuri won’t let foreigners write serious stories any more than the Asahi will.
“Maybe not, but I could have freelanced something.”
“You’re forgetting something though.” Andy moved closer.
“Oh, what’s that then?”
“You can’t write for shit.”
“Is that right? Fucking twat.” Mikey shoved Andy and hooked his leg, sending him to the street. He put his knee in Andy’s back. Both of them were laughing.
“Who’s the best writer in Tokyo, you fucking wanker?”
Andy, gasping, croaked out an answer. “Andrea Koppel.”
“Andrea Koppel? You’re not drunk, you’ve had a stroke.” He held Andy’s head down with his hand. “Try again. Brad, help me wring the truth from this vile toad.”
I had been laughing, but now I was coughing like crazy and I couldn’t take a breath. My vision went yellow. I saw the pavement coming toward my face. I felt no pain, only the snap-bounce when my head hit the pavement. Then I could move again. What happened? Andy and Mikey had stopped laughing. I found my glasses and put them back on. Fuck. A giant scratch in the right lens and an earpiece was bent.
“My head hurts.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Andy. “I heard it hit. Do you have a handkerchief? You’re bleeding.”
I fished for my handkerchief. “Is it bad? Should I go to the hospital?”
“Let’s see your eyes.”
We moved under a street light. Andy peered into my eyes one at a time, then backed up a little to survey them both.
“Pupils are the same size. If you puked that might signal a concussion. Or for you, it usually just means you've drunk your normal amount.” He clapped me on the back. “I’d say wrap that handkerchief around your head and let’s get some food.”
Mikey still looked worried. “Are you sure you’re OK? You went over like a dead tree. Your face looked awful.”
“I don’t know. I was coughing real hard and I couldn’t get my breath. Maybe I just needed oxygen.” I felt my forehead. A throbbing lump like half an egg sat just above my right eyebrow.
“If you feel bad tonight, go to the hospital. You don’t want to fuck about with a head injury.”
Andy squeezed my shoulders from behind. “Bullshit. The champ has seen worse than this. Now get back in there, champ, and finish it!”
I was coming back. I could feel the hash again. I flailed my arms and put on a Rocky voice. “I can’t see, you’re gonna have to cut me.”
Mikey looked relieved. “Take it easy, guys. I’m meeting someone.” He bade us farewell and trotted toward Aoyama Dori to catch a cab.
“He’ll be lucky to get a taxi,” Andy said. They won’t pick up foreigners this time of night.”
“Why? Too drunk?
“Not drunk enough to swindle. And foreigners don’t live far enough away. They want some salaryman blitzed out of his skull who lives out in the boonies. That’s twenty-five, thirty thousand yen easy, versus maybe two thousand to take us home.”
Andy looked at his watch. "You know what? Fuck the food. You should go home anyway."
The station wasn't far. My head still hurt, but the cool air was a tonic. We flashed our commuter passes and bounded down the stairs, hitting the platform just in time to feel the fetid tunnel-breeze that signals a train’s imminent arrival. It was Andy’s train.
“Put some ice on that when you get home.”
“Definitely. What’s up tomorrow?”
“Working. Enjoy your day off.”
The train took off. Andy pretended to hang himself with a commuter strap. Once he thought I was out of range, he flopped into a seat.
I took the purple line to Sangenjaya, but the last chin-chin densha was long gone. Big deal, it was only a mile and a half walk home. I took the handkerchief off. Not much blood. I tried to fold it so the blood wouldn’t show and just missed stepping into a spectacular spread of ramen puke. Fucking salarymen. Another good reason to take your shoes off before going inside, I thought.
I flopped onto my futon. I didn’t bother with the ice. The TV had a dating game-show where the guy chooses, the girl turns him down, and he’s humiliated. I turned off the light. My head still hurt, but the pain had shrunk to a small island of discomfort on my forehead. Wait, weren’t you supposed to stay awake if you’ve hit your head? Christ, I thought, I’ve even fucked up falling asleep. Then I was asleep.
I hope you liked this story. More to come! Take a look around. You might like the story of my bus ride through Indonesia. Or Check out the day by day journal of my coast-to-coast motorcycle trip across the US.